Irish Times columnist does not understand Irish America
Hillary Clinton’s moves on Northern Ireland indicate a deep interest and not a downgrade
I take very strong issue with the piece by Niall Stanage – “Clinton saga highlights ludicrous notions about importance of Irish in America” in the August 8th edition of The Irish Times.
I am the person he is referring to as spreading an “unsourced” story about Hillary Clinton becoming effectively the special envoy to Northern Ireland. I feel he has made an unwarranted and utterly wrong series of allegations about me and Irish America. His screed is so full of inaccuracies as to be laughable for any knowledgeable Irish American observer.
The truth is Hillary Clinton has stated she will handle Northern Ireland herself and not appoint a political envoy but will appoint an economic envoy. I have spoken to her twice about the envoy role since she became secretary of state. The first was soon after she was named by President Obama but not confirmed. We spoke for half an hour about the Irish issue and the role of the envoy. I mentioned that a future Tory government could be problematic as David Cameron had stated he was a confirmed unionist and it might be an important American role to balance that position.
The second was a few months ago when she granted me an interview (during which she first revealed that Ireland had agreed to take two Guantánamo prisoners) and we went off the record to discuss the envoy situation and she asked what my views were. I stressed that there was an important economic piece also to the American role but not to lose sight of the extraordinary insight she herself had on Northern Ireland issues.
She has since also made clear to several key Irish Americans that she will shortly appoint an economic envoy feeling that is a very important role in terms of helping get the Northern Irish economy moving.
The reason I broke the story recently on my website and on Morning Ireland about Clinton handling the role herself was because I believe an economic envoy appointment is imminent. I have spoken to the person who I believe will be appointed and he has confirmed that he is indeed the person under consideration. He said his clear understanding from her was that Clinton will be personally handling the Northern Irish political situation as it arises. That is also the understanding of several leading figures in Washington who deal with Northern Ireland, as well as some party leaders in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Far from being unsourced, the story was very well sourced from two separate direct participants, and I have no doubt it will turn out to be completely factual.
Stanage fails to understand Irish America. He cites Clinton as stating that she “did not see the need for someone full-time” as an envoy as reason to presume she has no real interest in it. There has never been a full-time envoy since George Mitchell nor is there ever likely to be one and no one has ever called for one. The fact that Clinton will personally be handling the issue as opposed to a lower-level state department personnel is a huge step up, not a step down, as Stanage tries to indicate. In addition there will be an economic envoy – another major step which he is clearly clueless about.